Everyone says, “Stick to a strict diet and you’ll lose weight.” They were wrong. Here’s what actually works.

For years, I was part of the dieting bandwagon. I strictly followed every rule in the book: High-protein, low-carb, no sugar, raw foods, you name it. I believed that the key to a healthy body and soul was following a strict diet regimen.

After all, that’s what every health guru on Instagram was preaching.

My journey started in my late teens. I was a bit of an outlier in my friend group, the only one who seemed to be constantly on a diet. The constant calorie counting, eliminating categories of food from my meals, and feeling guilty over the occasional indulgence were my normal.

I was convinced that this was the only path to losing weight and getting fit. My belief was fueled by social media feeds flooded with fitness influencers flaunting their chiseled bodies while promoting their strict dietary habits.

Then, I moved to Spain for a year-long study abroad program. The Mediterranean lifestyle was a stark contrast to my rigid eating habits. Wine with lunch? Siesta in the afternoon? Tapas for dinner? It was a far cry from the strict dieting culture I left back home.

Yet, despite all the wine and carbs, most people there seemed to be in great shape. The Spanish people were living proof that you can enjoy life and still maintain a healthy body.

This revelation spurred me to re-evaluate my approach towards dieting. I started questioning everything I had ever known about health and fitness. This led me on a journey of self-discovery and experimentation. And what I’ve found is a refreshing alternative to the rigid diet culture.

I’ve now been home for six months, trying to implement what I’ve learned in Spain into my American lifestyle. And let me tell you, it’s been a wild ride so far. Here’s what it has been like navigating through this new approach to nutrition and wellness in a society obsessed with dieting rules.

Embracing the Mediterranean lifestyle in America

My first step was to ditch the traditional dieting rules. No more counting calories or feeling guilty over a piece of cake. I made peace with food and started to see it as a source of nourishment, not as an enemy.

I began to incorporate more fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains into my meals, inspired by the Mediterranean diet I saw in Spain. I also prioritized regular physical activity, not as a punishment for eating, but as a way to feel good and stay active.

But what made a real difference was changing my mindset. Instead of obsessing over weight loss, I focused on feeling good in my body. I learned to listen to it, feeding it when it was hungry, resting when it needed rest.

The changes were astonishing. Not only did I end up losing weight without trying, but I also felt happier, more energetic, and less stressed. It was liberating to finally break free from the shackles of strict dieting.

But even though this approach worked for me, many people back home still swear by strict diets. They believe that discipline and self-control are the only ways to lose weight. 

The illusion of strict dieting

Ever since I can remember, the narrative has been the same: Weight loss equals discipline. We’re told to count every calorie, avoid certain food groups, and exercise religiously. The stricter the diet, the better the results, or so it seems.

This belief is so ingrained in our society that we often overlook the harm it can cause. The guilt, the stress, the constant battle with food – it’s no way to live. I know because I’ve been there.

Yet, this is what we’re made to believe is normal and necessary for weight loss. But my experience in Spain challenged this notion. I saw people leading a balanced lifestyle, not obsessively counting calories or avoiding carbs, and they were in good shape.

The Mediterranean diet isn’t a diet at all, but a lifestyle. It’s about enjoying food, moving your body, and living life to the fullest. It’s about balance.

Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone should adopt the Mediterranean lifestyle. What worked for me might not work for everyone. But what I am suggesting is that there is more than one way to achieve health and wellness. 

Finding my balance

The first step to bringing balance into my life was learning to listen to my body. I started paying attention to my hunger cues and eating mindfully. Rather than obsessing over the calorie content, I focused on how the food made me feel.

Next, I made movement a part of my daily routine. Instead of punishing workouts, I opted for activities I genuinely enjoyed like hiking, yoga, or a simple walk in the park. This shift made exercise feel less like a chore and more like a fun part of my day.

I also made an effort to enjoy my meals. Instead of hastily eating at my desk or in front of the TV, I started taking the time to savor each bite. This not only made me appreciate food more, but also helped me eat less and feel satisfied sooner.

Incorporating these changes took time and patience, but it paid off. My relationship with food improved dramatically, and I found myself feeling happier and healthier than ever before.

If you’re stuck in the cycle of strict dieting, take it from someone who’s been there: There’s another way. It won’t always be easy, but trust me, it’s worth it.

Breaking free from societal expectations

The journey to health and wellness is personal. It’s not about what society deems as acceptable or what the latest diet trend suggests. It’s about taking responsibility for your well-being and making choices that align with your unique needs and desires.

I had to step back and reevaluate my beliefs around dieting and health. This wasn’t easy. I had to confront my dissatisfaction with strict dieting, face the reality of my situation, and challenge the societal conditioning I had internalized.

Here’s what worked for me:

  • Taking responsibility for my health and well-being.
  • Learning to listen to my body’s needs over societal norms.
  • Embracing a balanced lifestyle, rather than following strict diet rules.
  • Making movement a fun part of my day, not a punishment for eating.
  • Eating mindfully and savoring each bite.

This approach requires self-awareness, patience, and a commitment to personal growth. But the reward is immeasurable: A healthier, happier life on your own terms.

I urge you not to let society dictate what your journey to health should look like. Break free from expectations and take control of your own well-being.

Adopt practices that align with your true nature, not what you’re told you should be doing.

Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair is a former competitive athlete who transitioned into the world of wellness and mindfulness. Her journey through the highs and lows of competitive sports has given her a unique perspective on resilience and mental toughness. Ava’s writing reflects her belief in the power of small, daily habits to create lasting change.

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